If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison
(warning: this is about as controversial as I get)
People are beginning to ask me what I write. My general response has been, "Inspirational Romance". It's true that all my stories so far have a religious undertone, and that religion is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's what I know. Though the conversion story is a theme in THE ORCHARD and THE INN, the other novels (THE LAKE, REMNANT, GRACE & CHOCOLATE) have their other issues to explore.
I read in an interview a while back that it was an opinion of one author (and I'm sure there are more) that LDS fiction needed to steer away from the conversion story... enough already. And I could see how that could be believed, knowing the source and their demographic. It's been done: Good girl converts bad guy and they live happily ever after, etc... I agree. The diversity we are beginning to see in LDS fiction is exciting, and it's about time the expansion manifests itself.
But I want to discuss the idea of labeling the conversion story as obsolete, and I mean no offense, and my tone is not argumentative. After all, when I tackled THE ORCHARD, writing a conversion story was the last thing on my mind. The story just took me that way. I simply wish to share my ideas on the subject, because ever since I read that interview, it's been stirring around in the back of my mind.
Most of the Church resides outside Utah and Idaho, though the concentration of members in those two states is, shall we say, dense. We could possibly include Arizona and some of Nevada as states with large, condensed numbers of Mormons. I've never lived in what these areas are often referred to as "Zion", though I did attend BYU Provo for 1 1/2 years. The culture has its own stigmas, myths, idiosyncrasies, beauties, and wonders. Having your entire ward (congregation of 200-400 members) living within four square blocks flanked by a church building on either end is common in Utah, from SLC, to Provo, to Hooper (pronounce hupper, like book). Everyone knows who the members aren't, and most people living in these areas assume those they see in the grocery store, the library, the gym, are members, or are related to members, or were once members. The kids in high school are predominantly LDS, but still making the same choices kids in other high schools are, still facing the same challenges, to a point (I have an image of an LDS youth from Queens placed in a Bountiful high school and have to chuckle).
But the rest of us don't live in that climate. And we're fine with that. I think it's safe to say the time has passed for those of us who don't live near these places to long to "get to Zion." We're happy in our towns and cities with Stakes of three to twelve wards (as opposed to seventy-five wards in one stake), a youth group of fifteen to thirty, twenty-five kids in Primary classes on Sunday, and one nursery of seven toddlers, two classes of early morning, or if we're lucky, release-time seminary at the high school, and knowing we're the only LDS members in a four block square, flanked by Lutheran and Church of the Nazarene buildings. Our nearest LDS bookstore is an hour+ away, wherever the nearest temple is, and our only link (and usually the only time we think about it except when gift-giving needs present themselves) is the Deseret Books flyer we get in the mail because we once ordered a set of scriptures through them. Did I just hear you gasp? No need. We're fine.
We serve our communities, we teach in our homes and in our church buildings. We wear our beliefs on our sleeves (because we have them in the summer months) and our support networks are strong because they have to be. We look forward to general conference via satellite. We hold sometimes two callings. I once held three. We have the church down the hill preaching against us and we preach against no one. We have smokers, drinkers, drug-dealers, porn solicitors in the adult communities as well as in the youth. Profanity is everywhere. Pre-marital sex is an odd phrase because isn't it just sex and isn't everyone doing it? We are repeatedly called non-Christians by our friends, and prayers are uttered for our eternal salvation. And we love our communities.
And we are invited, and compelled, to share what we have with others, and some of us wonder... How? And with who? And Why them? I have the faith, I love the gospel of Jesus Christ, my testimony is strong, but where is my courage?
And as these thoughts have stirred in my head, I have repeatedly come to the same conclusion.
The conversion story. There is a need. If there wasn't, I wouldn't have written it.